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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

POET OF THE RED CLIFF                     201

us all. It is difficult to think of the vagabond's life that he was leading
now as a form of punishment or of official confinement. While he
enjoyed that life, he gave to the world four of his best pieces: a short
lyric, "The Great River Flows Eastward", two sketches of his moonlight
1 voyage to "The Red Cliff", and "A Night Promenade at Chengtien".
These alone more than justify sending the poet into imprisonment. The
two sketches of the moonlight voyage are in the form of a fu, or
impassioned descriptive poem in prose, with a definite cadence and
occasional rhyme. Su Tungpo worked entirely by tone and atmosphere,
and these two poems are deservedly famous because, more convincingly
than writings by other men, they express in a few hundred words the
sentiment of the smallness of man in the scheme of the universe, and
^at the same time the boundless feast of nature that man can enjoy in
this earthly life. Here, even without rhyme and with only the dexterous
use of language, the poet establishes a prevailing mood that casts a
hypnotic effect on the reader, no matter how many times he has read
them before. The smallness of the human being in the scheme of the
universe is expressed here exactly as it is in all Chinese landscape paint-
ings. One sees very little of the details of the landscape, which are sub-
merged in the blank whiteness of the water and the sky, while two tiny
human beings float down the glistening river on a little wisp of a boat
under the moonlight. From that moment on, the reader himself is lost
pi the atmosphere.

Su. Tungpo is enjoying the night with a Taoist from his home
province, Yang Shihchang. It is a midsummer night in the seventh
moon. A gentle breeze comes slowly up the river without disturbing
the surface of the water. Su Tungpo and his friend are having a little
wine and humming some favourite melodies. By and by the full moon
comes up from the east and loiters between the Dipper and the Cow-
herd. A white mist blankets the river and the light of the water merges
imperceptibly with the light of the moonlit mist. There they are in
that little boat, floating over the wide expanse of the white river, and
they feel as if they were sailing in the air, careless of their destination.
They begin to sing a song, beating time by striking on the side of
the boat.

"Oars of cassia and sculls of the fragrant Ian
Strike at the gleaming surface*,
Follow the stream of light.
My heart wanders in the gloaming,
'Thinking of the fair one far away."

His friend, who is a good flute player, begins to play on his flute^ while
Su Tungpo hums the tune.   It is a strange, sad melody, speaking of